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Mayor: Pool ‘not in the best interest of our city’

A trio of aldermen who met three times since fall to decide the feasibility of building a pool in Brookhaven came to the board Tuesday night with some plans and numbers.

The plans were impressive, and the numbers were high, but the mayor was not ready to dive in and put the city in the drain to build it.

Mike McKenzie with WGK, the city’s engineer, presented the three-phase plan to the board. The plan came together with help from Eley Guild Hardy Architects and after closed-door meetings — the last held recently in Mayor Joe Cox’s office — with aldermen Dorsey Cameron, Jason Snider and Shelley Harrigill.

Phase 1, the pool and offices,  is estimated to cost $1,126,620. Phase 2, an additional basketball court/multipurpose room, restroom and kitchen, is estimated to cost $1,496,250. Phase 3, four classrooms, is estimated to cost $828,500.

“Any attempt or action by this board to construct such a facility would constitute a clear error in judgment by this board,” Cox read from a pre-written statement at the conclusion of the discussion. “This project is not in the best interest of our city and is not a project that this city can afford. In a perfect world with unlimited funds it may be a different story. I would not support this project.”

Cox said it was a “clear breach of our financial and fiduciary duty to spend $1.5 million to $3.5 million for the construction of a state-of-the-art facility at the expense of so many other needs of our community.”

In 2015, the Board of Aldermen set aside $25,000 for a pool study that was never used, and earmarked $50,000 in 2016, but it wasn’t used either. No studies were ever done on the feasibility of constructing a pool.

In 2017, aldermen voted to spend $12,000 on a pool study. Based on that study, completed by Eley Guild Hardy, a pool and community building could be built in three phases:

Phase 1 includes construction of an outdoor, eight-lane, short-course pool with a support building containing locker rooms, a first aid office, a lifeguard office and an office for a city recreational employee as well as an outdoor playground. An outdoor pool would avoid the high maintenance cost and high initial construction cost of an indoor pool. The budget for Phase 1 includes an 8-foot-tall security fence and paving for a parking lot. The budget of this phase is an estimated $1,126,620. This cost does not include land acquisition, professional service fees, geotechnical or topographical surveys or inflation.

Phase 2 of the community center includes a multipurpose room large enough to contain a high school regulation basketball court as well as a kitchen that could serve the multipurpose room and the pool deck. The multipurpose room would be a venue for event rentals, after-school programs and other community programs. The multipurpose building could be used throughout the year rather than primarily in the summer months. The cost estimate for Phase 2 is $1,496,250. This estimate only includes the cost of the multipurpose room and associated spaces and does not include the cost of the pool or support building from Phase 1.

The third and final phase of the community center includes the addition of four classroom spaces. These spaces could be used for after-school programs, child care, community activities, meetings and several other activities. The classrooms add more usable space to the community center so that it may be utilized year-round rather than only while the pool is operable. The estimated cost of Phase 3 is $828,500. This cost does not include any costs associated with Phase 1 or Phase 2.

As far staffing, the committee suggests one recreation director, which would be Matt Shell, who already serves as executive director of the city’s rec department, as well as an assistant director and daycare instructor and daycare instructors if the rec department offered after-school programs. They also suggest four lifeguards on duty during the hours of operation, 1-5 p.m Monday through Saturday. The pool would operate June 1 to July 31.

Ward 2 Alderman Shannon Moore, who was an advocate for the pool study last year, wanted to know why the emphasis on the study was the pool.

“Why so much emphasis on the pool when I think building a community center would be more feasible and attainable?” he asked.

He said the city should start with a community center and work toward the pool.

Harrigill, representing Ward 6, said once they had the information, they realized the city needed a community center more than a pool and that would be more financially feasible.

“Y’all were stuck on a pool. I was stuck on a community center,” Moore said.

McKenzie said they started studying the feasibility of a pool by itself, but since it would be used only two months out of the year, it needed a community center with it to make it more functional. He told Moore that rearranging the order of the phases could be done.

“That’s as easy as me taking these pages out moving them around and restapling them,” he said.

McKenzie estimates Phase 1 would cost about $1,126,620 in estimated construction costs, $7,500 for geotechnical investigation, $135,000 for professional fees for a total cost of $1,269,120 for Phase 1. If financed by a 20-year bond issue at 4 percent it would be $87,000 a year. Personnel cost to accomodate 10 swimmers with six lifeguards working four hours a day Monday through Saturday at $10 an hour is $12,480.

Yearly operation costs are $1,500 for electricity and $3,500 for chemicals. Liability insurance would add $10,000.

With day-use fees, the pool could earn $10,000 for the two months it’s open.

That’s $105,000 a year to cover costs over 20 years assuming nothing breaks on the pool, McKenzie said.

“Obviously that’s not the case. That’s what pools do. I have one,” he said.

 The committee made no recommendation.

“You asked us to look into it and this is what we came back with guys. We offer it to you for your consideration, “ McKenzie said.